Title Shadows by the Lighthouse
Author Melissa Puritis
Genre Middle-grade mystery
Welcome to Summerset Island, where the sand is golden and murder looms on the horizon.
Summerset Island’s lighthouse is a beacon for beach lovers; the sand is golden, the sea glistening, the locals welcoming, or at least welcoming to the visitors who are wealthy enough to stay. Avery Fowler isn’t going to Summerset Island for a chance to work on his tan, though. His father is now Summerset’s Chief of Police, so thirteen-year-old Avery must leave his old life behind and start over in this North Carolina town. The only reason he is giving this a chance is the promise his father made; this job would be slower and safer. But when a police officer is murdered, that promise dies too. Avery, wanting justice for the first person on the island who welcomed him, searches for the truth with the help of his new friends. Those friends come with their own struggle, though, as Avery wonders if he can trust them and where his place will be on the first day of school. Being thirteen is pretty complicated. He's told to just be a kid, just go play, but Avery wants to show that kids can do more than play; sometimes they can be the ones who save the day.
Time goes past, but he doesn’t get another wave. Avery’s discouraged and lets out a huge huff of frustration, but before he can talk himself into giving up, Officer Brown is out in the water beside him on her board.
“I didn’t know you surfed,” he says.
She laughs. “There’s probably quite a bit you don’t know about me, Avery.” She splashes him a bit and asks him how it is going. They bob up and down on their boards, and he admits that he isn’t sure when to try to catch a wave. She nods and explains to him that what might help him for now is to move a little closer to shore, just until he gets more comfortable popping up and timing things right. “It’s a lot easier to rise in on white wash and get the feel of the water. It’ll help you build confidence, too.”
She paddles toward the shoreline with him, helping him find a good spot to sit and wait. And when he catches the next wave in, she cheers like it is the most amazing thing she has ever seen. After trying a few more, they both walk up to the beach.
“Good job, Avery. It’s not an easy thing and you are catching on quickly. Keep trying. I’ll see you this afternoon, okay?”
They say goodbye, and she gives a quick wave to his parents on the porch while he walks to the house, covered in sand and salt, loving it.
* * *
Later that day, Avery straightens his tie and stands with his mother in the Town Hall garden. He sees Owen and Landon beside their fathers, and it dawns on him that they never made it out to the beach this morning. He was so excited to have stood up and have his dad see it, and then have Officer Brown out there with him, he somehow forgot that they bailed on him. Or did they? Were clear plans ever made, or did Avery just assume they were coming because they had the past few? Maybe that was it, and maybe he’s over thinking it. They don’t have to hang out all the time, he guesses. Officer Brown is off to the side, giving him a little wave, her two dogs seated next to her panting as quietly as they could. They, along with a few other people from town and other officers Avery has yet to meet, watch as Avery’s dad officially becomes Chief Fowler of Summerset Island. His dad looks somber, listening to the obligations he is to fulfill, the challenge to keep this place safe. His mom’s face has a huge proud smile, her eyes gleaming and glued to his dad. Avery realizes that, like him, she has given up a lot to be here, but has not once complained. She loved her old classroom and her boss, the art class she was taking, and she had so many friends, even ones from high school. She loves his dad and their family, and she always supports them both. He wonders if she’s lonely and keeping busy like he is to ignore it, and hopes she makes some friends soon, too. When the mayor is finished and Chief Fowler’s badge is fastened to his shirt, his pins placed on his lapel, Avery and his friends all shout and cheer.
Everyone is invited back to Avery’s house. Mrs. Fowler and Officer Brown prepared sandwiches and salads, kabobs and quiches, enough food for the whole town. Avery and his friends load their plates and escape to the back yard. They play with Officer Brown’s dogs, two huge chocolate labradoodles whose fur make them look like teddy bears. Thor stands next to Owen now, almost half his height, but despite the intimidating side, the dogs are happy to lick every face they come across. The boys take turns throwing balls for them and they all run around in the surf. When the sun drops from the sky, they listen to Officer Brown talk about astronomy, how to find the North Star and why they might need it someday, how it could help them navigate.
“Yeah, but why couldn’t we just use our phones, Officer Brown?” Landon asks.
“You never know where life will take you and why. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for a bit of the unexpected.”
More people came out to the beach, eventually leading to a big game of soccer, kids against adults. Neither side is willing to give up until parents notice how late it is, and families begin leaving, one by one at first, and then more. Officer Brown, now in uniform as her shift began in the midst of the celebration, stays to help them clean up; so did Landon and Owen’s families. Avery doesn’t remember anything after closing his eyes, that’s how tired he is.
And when he wakes up, everything is different.
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When author Melissa Puritis created a mystery story for her eighth-grade language arts class, she was hooked. Years later, no need to discuss how many, she has published a thrilling murder mystery for middle-grade readers, Shadows by the Lighthouse, inspired by a crime that occurred in a North Carolina beach town right around the time she was in middle school, and which remains unsolved to this day.
Melissa believes a good story is one that makes a reader feel something and relate to its characters. With her own book, Melissa fell in love with her characters, many of which are based on people in her life. She hopes her young readers will come away from her book realizing that we all feel out of place sometimes but, with faith in ourselves, we can make amazing things happen.
When she isn't writing page-turning mysteries for kids, Melissa enjoys reading, listening to true-crime podcasts, and running. She and her son, Avery (fun fact - also the name of the thirteen-year-old protagonist in her book, per his request), spend their time together on hikes and adventures, playing board games or soccer depending on the weather, watching Carolina Panthers games, taking guitar lessons, and, of course, reading.
A middle school English language arts teacher, Melissa and her son live in a small beach town in coastal North Carolina, like her story’s setting. Shadows by the Lighthouse is her debut novel.
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